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Gordon: NBA expansion to Las Vegas could be what’s next

Updated June 20, 2023 - 2:23 pm

Not lost on this Las Vegan during the Golden Knights’ pursuit and capture of Lord Stanley’s sacred silver chalice were the words of NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who again recently acknowledged expansion to Seattle or Las Vegas.

This time in the most tangible terms to date.

“It is a possibility,” he told NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal during a roundtable interview with NBA TV personnel before Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

“We don’t have anything specific in mind right now,” Silver said of expansion. “But I think it makes sense over time. If you’re a successful organization and continue to grow, there’s no doubt there are a lot of great cities interested in the NBA.”

Las Vegas is obviously among them — and rightfully so amidst its unlikely emergence as a global mecca of professional sport. The Knights have modeled the merit of expansion, requiring nary a dollar of public funding to find their foothold at T-Mobile Arena during their rapid emergence as the NHL’s best.

But another viable venue for a prospective NBA franchise may soon emerge. This one, worth $1 billion without any public funding, would be developed by Tim Leiweke, the chairman and CEO of the Oak View Group, which is developing the most expensive resort ever built in Southern Nevada.

He said last week the company hopes this year to finalize the permitting process for the 66-acre project slated for Las Vegas Boulevard and Blue Diamond Road, breaking ground some time next year to get the arena ready as quickly as possible.

“We don’t want to get ahead of (NBA Commissioner) Adam Silver and the NBA,” Leiweke said last week. “It’s up to the NBA to make a decision on expansion. We’re very careful about making any statements.”

Fit for a King?

Among the interested in expansion to Las Vegas: LeBron James, a partner in the Fenway Sports Group — valued last year by Forbes at $9.81 billion.

“I would love to bring a team here at some point,” the Los Angeles Lakers superstar and four-time NBA champion affirmed in October after a preseason game at T-Mobile Arena.

“I want the team here, Adam,” James added “Thank you.”

James’ comments precede an increase in his equity with Fenway, subsidiaries of which include MLB’s Boston Red Sox, the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins and the English Premier League’s Liverpool F.C.

Other conglomerates or ownership groups could obviously emerge, but none would carry the cachet that James embodies.

The King in the Kingdom.

Imagine that.

“Vegas is a really cool city and doing some really great things in sports these day,” James told reporters in February during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend. “You see what the Aces are doing, you got the Raiders there, you’ve got the (Knights) there, the hockey team.”

But first before the next step in the league’s prospective expansion process: the renegotiation of the NBA’s media rights, which expire after the 2024-25 season. Silver told O’Neal negotiations with potential distributors could begin “in earnest” by next spring.

Added Silver: “Once that’s done, we’ll turn to expansion.”

Undoubtedly with an eye on Las Vegas.

A basketball city

An NBA franchise is the only thing missing from the city’s increasingly robust professional basketball scene.

The defending WNBA champion Aces are better than ever, boasting the best roster ever assembled, a burgeoning base of season ticket-holders and a budding national brand in just their sixth year in the city.

NBA Summer League returns next month to UNLV for its 16th iteration, skipping only the 2011 (lockout) and 2020 (COVID-19 pandemic) summers since its inception in 2006.

The G League holds its annual Winter Showcase at Mandalay Bay, a mere hop, skip and jump away from G League Ignite’s Henderson headquarters, where soon-to-be No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Victor Wenbenyama made his stateside debut in a memorable duel with Ignite star Scoot Henderson.

“All of our events, when we’re thinking about going to so-called neutral markets, Las Vegas is always in a top group of cities we can consider,” Silver said last summer when speaking of the city.

“You have incredible hotels, entertainment outside of basketball and great facilities. Without being specific as to the events, we’re always thinking of Vegas as a possible destination.”

How about a permanent one?

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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